New time for meetings, other changes proposed for Cowichan school board

The new Cowichan Valley Board of Education had just elected its chair and vice chair when new trustee Rob Hutchins brought forward two motions at the board’s first meeting last month that he hoped would help shape the way the board works in future.

He asked first that the date and time for regular board meetings be reconsidered.

"It came to my attention during the election campaign that the traditional timing of the regular board meetings might cause a conflict for some of our partners in education," he said.

Hutchins is not the first to bring this to the attention of a school board. Ryan Bruce attempted to do so when he was on the board, citing the difficulty of combining the meetings with his duties as a volunteer firefighter but was unsuccessful in convincing his colleagues.

But Hutchins is also concerned about the position of the board chair.

"When I looked into the procedures bylaw I saw that to participate in debate, to make a motion or to second a motion, the board chair actually had to leave the chair. That’s my reading of it anyway. I don’t think we should muzzle the chair in her or his position," he said.

In one last point, he said that the idea of allowing trustees to abstain from voting should be reviewed.

"I’m concerned that a member of the board can actually abstain from a vote. It could put us in an awkward position with six people voting. It’s something that needs to be reviewed by all of us as we go forward," he said.

There was no discussion before everyone voted in favour of the idea that something be done about the suggestions as soon as possible.

Hutchins also moved that the board not activate any of the committees yet pending a

review of the board’s governance structure, particularly as the number of trustees has been reduced. "Even just as housekeeping, [the policy regarding committees] actually speaks to a board of nine not a board of seven and calls for four trustees on most of the standing committees. That means a majority of us would actually be sitting on a standing committee. That type of structure has to be changed, in my mind."

He called for a review by the superintendent and chair, adding that he learned at the recent trustee academy held in Vancouver that there are different configurations and liaison procedures that could be investigated.

These ideas, too, were approved by his colleagues.

The question of the school board’s committees was a topic of discussion in the gallery before the meeting and both teacher and parent representatives took the opportunity during question period to urge the new board to reinstate what they saw as an important connection to the district’s community.

New board chair Candace Spilsbury agreed that it was time for a second look.

"I think it’s important for this board to look at their governance role and how committees can be helpful to that. It’s important that they have a complete review," she said.